Sunday, July 15, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama's Farm-To-Table Fundraiser At Blue Hill At Stone Barns

New York: First Lady urges supporters to hit the road to campaign for President Obama...and lauds the work of chef Dan Barber...
While President Obama played golf on Sunday at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, First Lady Michelle Obama was hard at work on the campaign trail, traveling to Pocantico Hills, New York, for her second visit in two years to the organic Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Mrs. Obama attended a closed-door fundraising brunch in the chic dining room of a converted Norman-style dairy barn that is the Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant, speaking for about 25 minutes to 120 guests. (Above: An ObFo file photo of Mrs. Obama; photographers were not allowed at the brunch)

The First Lady offered detailed advice for how supporters can best woo undecided voters, after warning that the 2012 race will be tighter than 2008, when her husband trumped his opponent by a 7-point margin.

"This election will be closer than the last one. That is the only thing I can guarantee you. So...Barack needs you to be actively and passionately engaged in this election," Mrs. Obama said, before noting that "this election could come down to those last few thousand people that we register to vote...When it's close, it's about turnout."

Clad in a sleeveless dress with a black and white floral print, Mrs. Obama as she spoke stood by a long, wood table laden with summer vegetables and herbs from the working 80-acre farm, which is less than 30 miles from Manhattan. Guests--including singer/actress Vanessa Williams--paid between $1,500 and $25,000 per ticket. The menu from co-owner and Executive Chef Dan Barber, who introduced the First Lady, included Summer Fruits and Vegetables, "Stone Barns Organic Chicken" with Corn Succotash, and Petit Fours for dessert. Iced tea was served.

"From now until November--and the time is getting shorter--Barack is going to need everyone to get out there and to remind people about our values," Mrs. Obama said. "Remind them what's at stake, what we're fighting for...And I want you to start with the economy."

Undecided voters should be told that President Obama has been a job creator, Mrs. Obama said (though the unemployment rate has stubbornly remained above 8.1%).

"Let people know that for the past 28 straight months, we've actually been gaining private sector jobs--more than 4 million jobs in just two years."

Mrs. Obama added that prospective voters should also be reminded that President Obama protects seniors, worked to keep student loan rates unchanged, created tax cuts, and saved the auto industry.

"And you can also remind people about how so many folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under," Mrs. Obama said.

She did not mention presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by name, though he penned a 2008 op-ed for The New York Times titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." President Obama on Saturday made a reference to the piece while stumping in Virginia, quoting Romney as “saying let Detroit go bankrupt" as he assailed his opponent.

As she closed her remarks, Mrs. Obama urged supporters to hit the road, noting that even residents of historically blue states like New York can assure her husband's victory by getting out the vote elsewhere.

"If things look good where you are, if you're in one of these wonderful states where things are great, then pack a bag," Mrs. Obama said. "Pack a bag, spend some time in a battleground state like Pennsylvania. I could name a few that are very near, driveable."

Praise for Dan Barber...
At the brunch, Mrs. Obama paid tribute to Barber, who has served as an advisor for her Kitchen Garden and for her obesity campaign, Let's Move!. He is the only chef appointed to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and she thanked him effusively, describing their first meeting during the 2008 campaign.
Mrs. Obama first visited Blue Hill at Stone Barns in September of 2010, when she hosted a farm-to-table luncheon for 31 spouses of world leaders attending the 65th United Nations General Assembly, which thrust the non-profit agricultural education center into the international spotlight. Barber, joined by White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, and assistant chef/Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass, cooked the luncheon, which mingled produce from Mrs. Obama's garden and gleanings from the farm. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Barber at the 2010 luncheon)

"Dan always underplays the role that he's--he had in all the work that I've been doing with the garden, with obesity," Mrs. Obama said. "Because truly, he was probably one of the first people who has been in this movement who I connected with. Sam Kass--spoke so highly of Dan that actually he flew out to our home in Chicago in the midst of the campaign and cooked a meal for us."

"I had never tasted vegetables that were so fresh and so delicious and so simply created...I knew then and there that if, as he [Barber] put it, if more people understood what good food tastes like that they would demand it...

"So I want to thank Dan for being among the many who have laid the foundation, and have been doing the work long before anybody knew who Michelle Obama was," Mrs. Obama said.

Stone Barns, a non-profit, received a $735,130 grant from USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program for fiscal year 2011.

Before her UN luncheon, President Obama escorted his wife for a Date Night Dinner on May 30, 2009 to Barber's second Blue Hill restaurant, located in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

Co-hosts for the brunch were Margaret Russell, editor of Architectural Digest, who most recently threw a Manhattan fundraiser for the President in mid-June, and a couple who are top bundlers for President Obama: Interior designer Michael Smith, who re-decorated both the White House residence and the Oval Office, and his partner James Costos, an HBO executive. Smith and Costos have hosted a string of fundraisers in New York and Los Angeles, and Mrs. Obama hailed them as "probably two of my favorite people in the whole world."

"They have just been amazing--not just here in New York in terms of raising money, but on all coasts," Mrs. Obama said. "I see them everywhere. They're probably tired of me. I'm embarrassed to even do my stump speech because they know it by heart."

"So just don’t mouth the words as I'm talking, would you please?" she added, to laughter.

Proceeds from the brunch benefit the Obama Victory Fund, a joint committee that raises funds for Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties.

After the fundraiser, Mrs. Obama traveled to New York City to catch the musical The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theater. Update: Mrs. Obama caught two other musicals, too, joined by her daughters.

"Catfish row is floating on air after meeting Michelle Obama at our show tonite. She is grace incarnate & hugged every member of the cast!" Tweeted star Audra McDonald, who plays the title role of Bess.

The full transcript of the First Lady's remarks

The invitation for the event:

*Top photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; second courtesy of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture